5 Things You Need to Eat At Waikīkī Yokocho
It’s like Shirokiya’s cooler older sister.
Photos: Maria Kanai
In Asakusa, Japan, there’s a place called Nakamise-dori where more than 90 food vendors line both sides of a narrow street, and you can sit outside and eat fresh ramen, melon pan, musubi or senbei. It’s hectic and fun, and now people in Hawai‘i can experience something similar at Waikīkī Yokocho: a new, self-proclaimed gourmet Japanese dining destination that opened to the public on Thursday, Dec. 1 at the basement level of the Waikīkī Shopping Plaza. There are three dedicated, themed areas: Ramen Road, Noren Street and Engawa Terrace, and it really makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into Japan’s crowded streets and alleys.
Waikīkī Yokocho is like Shirokiya’s cooler, fancier older sister who’s not as easy to visit—parking at the Waikīkī Shopping Plaza is $2.50 per half hour, cash only, with a $7 flat rate. We attended the packed media opening on Tuesday, Nov. 29, and, while we need to head back to sample everything else (only 10 out of 16 vendors were open), here’s what we like so far.
1. Kushikatsu Tanaka
This place serves up kushikatsu, deep-fried skewers, a Japanese cuisine that hails from Osaka prefecture and is similar to tempura, but lighter by using flour instead of panko bread crumbs. Each kushikatsu piece is $2 to $3, and appetizers and plates range from $3.90 to $9.50.
2. Nana’s Green Tea
You can order matcha lattes, nama chocolate, kinako warabi mochi, and matcha and hoji (roasted green tea) soft serves, but what stood out for us was the hoji latte. It’s creamy, subtly sweet and addictive, and something we’ve never tried before. And get this: Nana’s is also serving alcoholic cocktails using the same matcha latte flavors.
Wagyu tataki nigiri sushi. Need we say more? This highest grade of Japanese beef is incredibly delicate and slightly seared to perfection. You can get five pieces of wagyu tataki nigiri sushi for $25, and there are also set menus, including the yakiniku set ($18.50) and takeout lunch boxes. Other dishes include seafood and shabu shabu.
4. Shichi Musubi
We have a soft spot for musubi; these humble rice balls can go from blah to bam when good ingredients are used with the perfect rice ratio. Shichi Musubi does musubi right by using high-quality ingredients including organic white, brown and red rice. We loved the little freshly made, sample-size musubi that had mentaiko mayo, seasoned tuna and salmon.
5. Umami Teppan Kingyo
Japan is pro at fusion foods, and Umami Teppan Kinyo has a genious mix of Italian and Japanese flavors with a margherita vegetable okonomiyaki—a Japanese savory pancake. The sample plate also came with yakisoba, but our hearts were taken with the combination of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese in the okonomiyaki.
And there’s more to be found in the marketplace, including tonkotsu ramen, tempura tendon, soba and curry. Drinks too, such as beer, whiskey, cocktails and shochu.
While we were sampling these foods and listening to the wadaiko performance by the VIP Japanese drum performers Sai, we wondered how Waikīkī Yokocho will do with the local audience, and thought about the possibility that the majority of customers will be Waikīkī tourists who’ll come to experience Hawai‘i … and then experience Hawai‘i-does-Japan! It’s interesting and a little weird, very Inception. But it’s also really cool.
Waikīkī Yokocho, Waikīkī Shopping Plaza, 2250 Kalākaua Ave., waikiki-yokocho.com, 926-8093